I’ve been spending a lot of time with teens lately. Outside of learning new slang (rizz is top of mind), I’ve learned a few important things. The most important being that these teenagers don’t teenage the way we used to teenage. They’re growing up on the same earth but inhabiting a different world.
One of those differences is that there’s a new holy trinity. In the same way that we had our primary issues growing up, this generation has theirs and they are mental health, LGBTQ, and social justice. These are all areas in which the Church has not done well historically and that has led to a mass exodus that started with Millenials and has peaked with Gen Z.
It is no longer acceptable or enough for us to throw a few scriptures at the issue and move on. This generation is looking for and expecting well-reasoned and thoughtful answers to their burning questions before they’re even willing to walk through our doors. So what will we say?
I tell my mom all the time that mental health wasn’t invented when I was born in 1987. Every generation has had its issues but they were often buried, usually surfacing later in some toxic way. In many other cases, you could have been institutionalized for them.
Of course, enslaved people dealt with anxiety but they had to keep going otherwise it could mean their lives, there was no such thing as a mental health day. There is biblical evidence for these occurrences too. Jeremiah dealt with depression , Jesus was anxious in the Garden of Gethsemane. None of this is new.
The difference between today and back then is now we have language for what we are experiencing. More people are able to name what they are going through than ever before. More teens report having mental health issues than ever before. It’s not just them, .
We can’t just tell them (or each other) to pray it away or go take a nap (although sometimes rest is very helpful). We need concrete biblical words because teens today are identifying with their mental health issues more than they are identifying with what God says about them.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I have depression so I can’t…” or “I’m anxious therefore I couldn’t possibly…” That’s not what God says about you but when the culture is forming you instead of God, it’s hard to see that. How we identify ourselves is paramount to the life of the Believer.
This does not mean we won’t struggle. I’ve been open about my battles with depression and loneliness but if I allow those things to define and rule me then I will miss out on who God has called me to be.
(I know this is a much more expansive issue and I don’t want to risk oversimplification of complex things but if all goes well, there will be more on this in the next few weeks.)
Listen, I’m not the most qualified person to talk about this but I love Jesus and people so give me some grace here.
Historically, we have treated this group of people so poorly that they want nothing to do with us. I am not saying we need to call sin good but I do need to ask, where is the love of Christ? I grew up at the cross-section of the simultaneously most religious and homophobic culture there is. That is quite the conundrum.
We are quick to remind you that homosexuality is an abomination while conveniently ignoring the myriad of verses that say pride is too. Few of us are gay but nearly all of us are prideful. It’s easy to hit on the thing that’s not your struggle and ignore your own.
There’s a deeper discussion to be had here but more kids than ever are identifying on the LGBTQ spectrum. Today’s group of teens have grown up with this normalized in a way that it just wasn’t for us. It’s tough for us to say to them “this is wrong” when their very real friends and education system and media are telling them this is right.
Check out this from the Jude 3 Project that I think handles this topic well.
We need to come with greater compassion for what we are calling our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to when we ask them to submit their sexual desires to Jesus.
In so many ways the first two issues fall under the umbrella of the third but social justice is expansive enough to include so much more.
You can’t read the Old Testament without seeing God’s heart for the marginalized. Most often defined as the sojourner, widow, and the orphan. We should not be so rigid as to limit ourselves to those categories because the principal is the most vulnerable and oppressed in society. One of the major reasons people cite leaving the Church is our record in this very area. Like so many other things, the pandemic only exacerbated this issue.
Somehow the term social justice has become anathema in many church circles and associated with the big bogeyman “liberalism.” Again, a quick reading of the Bible reveals that God has a huge heart in this area. Teens today are tired of seeing their friends, family, and others left by the wayside of a Church that claims to care for others.
To them, it seems the Church only cares for those we deem worthy, and frankly, our reputation proves this. Imagine if Jesus had that same attitude.
We have to do better. Caring for the marginalized and oppressed is not optional for Christians. There’s a lot of talk about legislation around women’s bodies and while I won’t get into that here, I can say that our hypocrisy is on full display when we could end the orphan crisis if every church, not family, every church adopted a child needing a home.
What if our greatest apologetic for this generation was simply living out what we say we believe?
There are deeper discussions to be had here but I think it’s important for us of a certain age to recognize these teenagers don’t teenage the way we used to teenage. They have different concerns and dilemmas that they are facing and we are losing them quickly. We would do well to remember that this generation is the future of the Church.
Even if we don’t think these things are important or the issues are settled, perhaps we should give them our hearts and ears and attempt to understand them. Let’s try to be empathetic while staying committed to biblical standards and showing them the way of Jesus.